1 Samuel 4:1–22 (ESV)

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines. They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.

Having spent three chapters focused on Samuel and the family of Eli, the narrative now moves to the ark of the covenant. Samuel will not appear again until 1 Samuel 7:1–17. At this point in time, even though Samuel has been called to the prophetic office, he is not yet influencing politics. Eli is still the judge who rules Israel, and Samuel will not take on that role until some twenty years later.1

1 Samuel 4 presents us with the initial fulfillment of the Lord’s decree of judgment on the house of Eli (see also 1 Samuel 2:27–36). Where Samuel represents the Israel of the future, one where there is repentance and faith in the Lord, Eli and his sons represent the Israel of the past, the Israel under God’s judgment.2

Though the narrative of 1 Samuel 4 follows immediately after Samuel’s call to be a prophet, it is likely that some time had passed (as is made clear in the Septuagint).3